Thinking in 360 Degrees

Getting the big picture.

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My company has been doing business in Japan since the mid-1970’s. We have enjoyed the experience and have marveled at how Japanese businessmen act and think. For example, it is very important for the Japanese to reach a group consensus on major decisions (an inherent part of the concept of Theory Z). By doing so, they solicit the input from all of the workers before making a decision (a bottom-up type of approach). As an American, I found this to be radically different than the western world’s top-down micromanagement approach. The Japanese approach may make for a longer sales cycle, but it simplifies implementation (after all, everyone has agreed to the decision).

As the Japanese work through a problem they tend to look at it from every angle or as they refer to it as thinking in “360 degrees.” This is a much wider perspective than what you typically find in western companies. Whereas the Japanese tend to think in terms of 360 Degrees, Americans tend to suffer from tunnel-vision, meaning they become overly concerned with a single piece of the puzzle. Maybe this is because the western world is somewhat territorial in nature. We become so obsessed with our piece of the pie we tend to overlook the entire dish.

I think a lot of this has to do with our conditioning. Whereas the Japanese are taught at an early age the importance of teamwork and cooperation, Americans are taught to be individualistic and competitive. No wonder Japanese think of the bigger picture while Americans tend to build and fight over their little fiefdoms.

Over the years I have learned that larger and more complex projects require teamwork, communications and cooperation. Maybe it is because of our natural aversion to cooperate, and not to think in terms of 360 degrees, that we have difficulty conquering anything of substance in this country anymore. This may be a major factor why we no longer think big and are content doing small things.

Keep the Faith!